I’M IN! Star Movies Scare-a-thon

photo from Star Movies twitter page

photo from Star Movies twitter page

Ever since I read about the Butt Numb-a-thon event in Austin, Texas, it has become part of my bucket list to join such an event. Call me crazy but I really do think it would be totally to watch movies for hours on end surrounded by a bunch of other movie afficionados.

When Star Movies organized their Movie Marathon event several years back, I have constantly emailed entries but participants were chosen via electronic raffle, so my chances have always been slim.

This year, Star Movies opened the contest again but timed its event for Halloween, and the rules have grown stricter. Participants would be required to sit through hours of horror movies barred from stretching, texting, flinching, standing up or going for bathroom breaks. Pretty tough, huh? Still, I religiously viewed their shows and watched out for the popcorn tub icon which fleetingly appeared every once and a while. I sent my entries daily. My dedication paid off when I got this in my email.

scareathon

SUCCESS! After years of trying and failing to make it to the shortlist of Star Movies Annual Movie Marathon, I finally received the coveted email that finally included me in this year’s Star Movies Scare-a-thon. Yay! PS. I have already confirmed. 

I’m so psyched. I’m actually not in it for the money (P150,000 for the grand winner) as I have no competitive bone in my body at all, but I’m totally excited for the experience. So far, the record for years past has been 16 hours. I’m thinking I’ll be happy to sit through five or six movies and push myself as I go along. All I know is that I’m going to enjoy every single second of it. What a great belated birthday gift for me. Wish me luck guys!

7500: Movie Review

7500-2014Over the weekend, I managed to catch up on my TBW pile and I decided on this supernatural horror from Japanese director Takashi Shimizu (who incidentally directed The Grudge Japanese trilogy). It looked promising as it had Amy Smart (Crank), Ryan Kwanten (True Blood), Christian Serratos (The Walking Dead), Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch) and Leslie Bibb (Zoopkeeper) in the cast. I had high hopes for Shimizu because The Grudge was great.

The film revolves around the passengers of Flight 7500 bound for Japan where a man suffers from a mysterious seizure and dies. As the flight crew relocates the body to the first class cabin, air hostesses Laura (Bibb) and Suzy (Chung) begin to notice passengers disappearing, along with the body of the dead guy. When paramedic Brad (Kwanten) overhears the conversation, he enlists the help of his estranged wife Pia (Smart) and newlyweds Rick (Jerry Ferrara) and Liz (Nicky Whelan) to discover the identity of the dead passenger and his connection to the disappearances. What they find in his belongings bring chills to the already spooked amateur sleuths.

7500 seemed like an alright horror at the beginning. It had a certain air of  mystery about it the promises on a great payoff at the end of the movie. Sadly, the payoff didn’t come to fruition.

The biggest problem I felt, was the storytelling, which seemed fragmented and unsure. Shimizu did make an attempt to make audiences care about the characters, but there was really not much in terms of character development or a backstory to support their actions. Nobody really stood out of the lot and for the number of passengers on the plane, it was just sad. Kwanten came close to being that guy but the general air of broodiness overwhelmed him. He seemed to give up and resign to the monotony of the film, which was another problem of the film. The movie proceeded at a singular tone, like a song without a crescendo. It was always at the same level from beginning to end. I felt like it was attempting too much to keep the twist so close to its chest because it was the only thing that the movie had going for it. But when it was revealed, it was not the shocker that viewers were hoping for. It was nothing new. It was just disappointing.

While technically the effects were well executed, there were never any real outstanding scary moments that really take place. The movie did attempt to inject some meat into the story by building up the shinigami story but there was never real focus on it, and it was never really answered what the dead guy’s connection to it was. This storyline was just abandoned as abruptly as it was unveiled.

All in all, 7500 deserves an A for effort but an F for everything else. It wasted a lot of talent and a lot of time, hiring good actors to run around the plane like headless chickens only to stop at a dead end. It was, sadly an underwhelming and unremarkable horror film that does not quite take off.  Not quite horrible but a snoozefest just the same.

The Fifth Estate: Movie Review

the-fifth-estate-movie-poster-copyIn 2010, The Guardian, The New York Times and Le Spegel simultaneously released a story on the Afghan war logs and credited their source as Wikileaks, a website responsible for releasing vital information provided by unnamed sources. The website is founded by the eccentric activist Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a handful of volunteers, including his partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl), a computer hacker from Berlin. The story was devoted 14 pages in The Guardian, 12 in the Times, and major coverage by Le Spiegel, and became a major sensation because it entailed the biggest leakage of US military documents in American history. The story catapulted Wikileaks as a legitimate news source when it released the logs without edits but also called to question the ethics behind the move as it imperiled the lives of hundreds American sources in war zones in Afghanistan.

Even before the movie was made, the subject of Wikileaks was already a very controversial one because on the one hand, the site aims to give the public access to free information about corruption and oppression in the world. It was founded to bring down tyranny using information as a tool. However, on the other hand, its refusal to edit information and publish the leaked documents as is including data like addresses and contact numbers of the officials involved in the controversy has been called to question for endangering the individuals and subjecting them to public outrage.

As a former journalist, the dilemmas in the movie proved to be truly engaging. Weighing Wikileaks’ actions against the Journalism Code or the Canons of Journalism was truly baffling. Professional journalists seek vital information and sources of news but as members of the fourth estate, they also serve as gatekeepers of this information, and as such bear the responsibility of crafting the stories that hold merit to the public without endangering the sources of their information or those who may be affected by it. Wikileaks practices journalism to a certain extent — in protecting its sources, and in verifying the validity of the documents that they release on the website. But the handling of the information between the major news networks and the website differs by a wide margin. While The Guardian, Le Spiegel and Times, redacted sensitive information such as the names of government informants in war torn areas, Wikileaks pushed ahead and released over 250,000 war logs to prove that it had no bias and stayed true to its original principles. This resulted in a major catastrophe within the US military and their allies when the information was fully released.

The movie was based on the book written by Daniel Domscheit-Berg after his falling out with Assange over the handling of the Afghan logs and it was only natural for Assange to debunk Berg’s claims. While the movie focused on the dynamics between the two characters (Cumberbatch was spectacular as the weird, often obsessive activist Assange), I was more fascinated in the evolution of the site from breaking small stories to taking down billion dollar financial institutions and an entire dictatorship. I was inspired by what difference conviction and determination can make against those who abuse their power. At the end of the day, it was a matter of trust. Berg trusted in Assange’s ideals and up to a certain point agreed wholeheartedly with what he stood for when no one else believed in him. Its wonderful to see passion like these two shared with their cause, especially in a world of people who couldn’t care less about issues that do not impact them directly. No matter how Assange was depicted in the film, I believe that he was truly a visionary. Not many people could accomplish what he did with the limited resources that he had. And he made it happen. No many people have this gift.

While the relationship of Assange and Berg did not exactly end amicably, I was not really surprised because when two people care about their cause as much as these two, there is bound to be conflict. Still, it gave me a new respect for these two. Imagine, building Wikileaks with just two people, processing all of the information and making a difference in the world by building a network of sources whose identities are protected by layers and layers of code. I admire the principles of Wikileaks even if I don’t totally condone the manner in which they release the information.

All in all, I think The Fifth Estate is a great movie to open society’s eyes to the power of information, and the best lesson in media ethics as one could probably get. An insightful piece of cinema, it inspires people to take action and underscores each person’s responsibility to society. Change is possible and while Wikileaks may not have brought about the holistic change that Assange dreamed for the world, the site did manage to make a difference for a short period in time. And that’s always a good start to start a revolution.

The Voice Season 7: It just keeps getting better

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After new coach Usher took The Voice crown last year with soul artist Josh Kaufman, I was really excited to see what Season 7 had in store. Unfortunately, Usher is on tour this year and Shakira is pregnant with another baby boy. So two new superstars had to step in to take the vacant seats left behind by original coaches Christina Aguilera and Ceelo Green.

When I heard that Gwen Stefani and Pharell took the gig, I was psyched. I was really interested to see how these two would gel with coaches Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, who have dominated the competition with a total of five wins in the show’s six seasons. Pharell intrigued me because he seemed reserved, unlike Usher who wore his swagger like a cape. And Gwen, well, I grew up with No Doubt music so I know what she brings to the table. I was really surprised how the first two episodes turned out because the two new coaches had no problem blending in. And the banter, oh the banter was super fun to watch. It was hilarious, and leaves no doubt that everybody brought their A game. Everybody wants to win.

Adam has grown really competitive this season and viewers can see the passion that he has for finding artists whom he can groom to be the next big thing. Its funny to see him beg contestants to pick him while Blake pokes fun at his pleas. Blake, in turn, has a goldmine of quips and the newbies were not spared from his quick wit and jokes. Of course, his favorite target is still Adam and I love to see these two go at each other’s throats. Gwen is such a big surprise. She is super badass on stage but I never would have guessed that she was so frickin nice as a person. She’s really down to earth, very earnest, and I love to see her guilt Blake into giving her a hug when he gets mean or laughs at her. Plus, she gives away t-shirts to her team members, which is very cool. Pharell, on the other hand, is cool as cucumber but very sincere. People can see his passion for his music and his genuine artistry with his words, and whether or not he gets the contestant, his speech strikes home. Oh, and did I mention how awesome this year’s pool of auditioners are?

So far, I’ve only seen two episodes but I couldn’t wait for more. I can’t wait to see whom the coaches will enlist as celebrity mentors. And just like that, I’m addicted to this show again. It happens every year.

While waiting for the next episode, here’s a spoof of The Voice done by Sesame Street to tide you over. Puppet Blake is totally spot on. :D

Diary ng Panget: Movie Review

DiaryngPangetThe last Filipino movie I watched — indie filmmaker Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Before) was probably one of the heaviest, most thought provoking and artistic movies I’ve seen locally. It was widely acclaimed by critics, won the 2014 Locarno Film Festival, and spanned 5 hours and 38 minutes. At the end of it, I was still reeling with the depth of the movie so I decided the next Pinoy movie I will watch should counter balance all the thinking I did with Diaz’s film. Luckily, I had a copy of Diary ng Panget (Diary of an Ugly Girl) in my TBW pile. Its a light romantic comedy about a bunch of teens falling in love so what better departure from the arts could I have than this?

Eya (Nadine Lustre) is an orphan who goes to school on scholarship at Wilford Academy, a school for the rich and privileged. To say that she sticks out like a sore thumb in a school of beautiful people is an understatement because not only is she riddled with acne but she is also dirt poor. Luckily, she makes friends with Chad (Andre Paras), a popular and sensitive jock and his dream girl Lorie (Yassi Pressman), a half British half Pinoy beauty who has been in love with heartthrob Cross Sanford (James Reid) since grade school. When she is kicked out of the house by her aunt as soon as she turned 18, she finds work at the Sanford house as Cross’ personal maid and she finds out that behind his beautiful face likes a monster, who turns away anyone who attempts to get close.

Diary ng Panget is a movie adapted from wattpad, a portal for aspiring writers to have an avenue to publish their works online for free. As a matter of fact, the author Denny R. is only currently 20 years old (She was younger when publisher PSICOM picked up her novel for publishing). On the positive side, it was a great move for the studios to pick up a book written by a young author to make a film for young people. It was like getting a direct link to their target market and in this aspect, Diary ng Panget did not disappoint. The jokes were actually quite funny and the characters’ antics were really relatable to young people. For older audiences, some of the scenes may actually remind them of their exploits when they were younger so its a win-win across the board.

In terms of the casting, Viva Films took a risk in giving big breaks to a new and improved James Reid (who won in the Philippine version of Big Brother Teen Edition several years back), and newcomer Nadine Lustre and it was a gamble that paid off because these two have nice chemistry. Nadine looks like a girl next door and James is hunky so they really complemented each other. As for supporting characters Andre Paras and Yassi Pressman, who are also relatively new to the industry, their acting still needs some work but they were likeable and charming and basically, that’s all their roles ever asked of them so there’s great potential here for a new loveteam.

On the minus side, the story and the execution was riddled with plotholes and inconsistencies (which are in slumbook terms “too many to mention”). Its understandable for the source material to have this because it was written by a teenager but since the film rights were bought by professionals, scriptwriter Mel Mendoza del Rosario should have tweaked the screenplay to address these issues and not stuck to the book religiously. As a result, there were great problems with the flow of the story in terms of transitioning, impacting the effectiveness of establishing the actual love story between the lead characters. The film relied too much on the ‘kilig’ factor of the stars and forgot to infuse a certain amount of substance to make the characters memorable.

All in all, I cannot fault Diary ng Panget too much because its not the type of film that gets made for the artistry, but rather its the type of feel good rom com that pleases its audience for 110 minutes but gets forgotten after a while. I enjoyed it to a certain degree but it was frustrating because there was some potential in the movie. Working with younger people should have inspired creativity and energy to try something new. Unfortunately, filmmakers did not even make the effort of exploring the possibilities because they already trapped themselves in the mainstream formula. And its a shame.

RUSH: Movie Review

rushIf I wasn’t waiting for the popcorn tub icon to make an appearance to enter the Star Movies Scare-a-thon last night, I wouldn’t have chosen to watch RUSH on cable TV, and I would have missed out. By the end of the film, I almost forgot that I didn’t intend to see it. I wanted to own a copy of the movie on my collection. It was that good.

Rush is a biopic about the epic rivalry of two legendary race car drivers — Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) in the 1976 F1 racing season. The film chronicled the early days of the two drivers in the F3 racing circuit until they became world champions in the Formula One Grand prix.

First off, I didn’t expect to be blown away by this epic biopic but I truly was. And it was an awesome surprise. Not only did I learn about F1 racing as a sport from this movie but I gained a lot of insight about apparently two of the greatest figures in racing history. At first glance, it would seem that the biopic was about the rise and fall of James Hunt, with Niki Lauda as a supporting figure in his superstar lifestyle, but audiences have a surprise in store as Lauda’s character steals some of Hunt’s thunder as his backstory is revealed throughout the film.

I for one, thought that the best element of the movie was director Ron Howard’s ability to depict on screen the intense rivalry and the fierce competition between Hunt and Lauda, and how they pushed each other to their limits. Howard was able to depict the two characters as equals from beginning to end, and how one could not have been the person they were without the other. Howard was able to establish the opposite roads that the two icons took to become icons in the racing circuit, their polar opposite personalities and work ethics — James, who was a reckless, happy go lucky womanizer oozing with raw talent, and Lauda, a pragmatic descendant of a rich family of businessmen, who made his way in the sport with his talent, hard work, and analytical skills. It was interesting to see the two men face different struggles, make different choices, yet end up competing for the same prize — the world championship and the adoration of the racing industry in an epic battle culminating in the 1976 Grand Prix.

The movie was intense from beginning to end, on the racetrack or off it, and it was owing mostly to the realism in Hemsworth and Bruhl’s portrayal of two larger than life characters. While the rivalry and animosity between the two characters was apparent with each repartee and insult, they also had a fierce loyalty and respect for each other that drove their characters and it was what made this moment of racing history come to life. Its impossible not to empathize with these two characters as audiences will easily identify and respect these men’s journeys in their own right. They earned their place in racing history fair and square no matter what drama they faced in their personal lives behind the scene.

The final dialogue between Hunt and Lauda at the airfield in Bologna, summed up their relationship and differences clearly–  James believing that racing is all about the rush and living for the moment, Niki, firm on his convictions about taking calculated risks, yet there was an underlying acknowledgment in their words about a shared passion for driving. After all, the two men came a long way from the rookies they were in F3, and their shared experiences have brought them closer to each other than they expected. They motivated each other, they envied each other, they respected each other and became one half of the world’s most iconic racing duos in sports history.

Adding to film’s strengths were the raw and extreme scenes, shifting between long shots, close ups and POV shots from the perspective of the racers, coupled with a really strong musical score that accented the danger and drama of each moment. While my favorite race was of course, the one in Japan, the lead ups were equally thrilling and engaging.

All in all, Rush was a movie for the books. Excellently written, with edge of your seat action, a great story and a dramatic finish brought to life by great acting and a unique chemistry between the two lead stars. Its hard to believe that all these happened as is in real life. It was a great call to make a movie out of this because it was like fate wanted it to happen. My only gripe in the movie was that Chris’s accent sounded more Australian/Scot than English.

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Before): Movie Review

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon poster(1)Critics have raved about Lav Diaz’s Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What was Before) which recently won the Pardo d’ Oro (Golden Leopard) at the Festival del Film Locarno 2014, the singular highest honor achieved by a Filipino film in its nearly 100 year history. During the award ceremonies, it also bagged the International Critics’ prize, the Don Quixote Prize, Environment is quality of life prize, and the Independent Critics Award for newcomer Hazel Orencio as Best Actress. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the press screening of the film at the SM Mall of Asia, an event sponsored by SM Cinema together with the Film Development Council of the Philippines and Sine Olivia Philippines on the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, which many Filipinos believe heralded the darkest days in Philippine history.

MMSKAAN is the story of life in a remote barrio in the years leading up to Martial Law. Itang, a devoted sister to her disabled sister Joselina; Tony the winemaker who harbors a dark secret, Mang Sito, one of the respected elders of the barrio and his “nephew” Hakob, who longs to flee the village to see his parents in Culion, Palawan. The story details their hopes and dreams, their sins, their regrets, their poverty — but as their connections unravel, they are faced with an ominous new threat and are introduced to fear that drives them away from their homes and their native land.

While some other filmmakers who tackled the subject matter of Martial Law have chosen to depict the brutality in the human rights violations perpetrated by those in power during the Marcos regime, indie director Lav Diaz was the first to focus on the lives of regular folk in a remote barrio in the main premise of the movie,  making it a unique take on the the same premise. Instead of the rallyists and the activists, the movie trained its lens on those who were in the periphery but were equally touched by the controversial chapter in the nation’s past.

A masterful storyteller, Diaz uses no shortcuts to achieve his means. He takes his time to tell the story sequentially, focusing on every small detail. On the one hand, audiences will appreciate his effort and passion in creating cinematic masterpieces with every frame. It was obvious with each scene that Diaz and his crew took great care to come up with the perfect angle and capture the perfect shot as each frame of this movie could be entered into a photo contest. Each second is composed perfectly with every element (even the animals) seeming to know where there should be. Diaz made sure the each second of this the 5 hour and 38 minute-long film was beautiful to behold. On the other hand, this strength may also be a turnoff for some mainstream moviegoers as Diaz’s penchant to lengthy scenes accented by only by the natural noise of the environment becomes tedious for the less than patient audience. Personally, I thought that the length of the scenes, while calculated to give audiences a chance to process the events, could have benefited from a little more editing to expedite the storytelling. Cutting out some of the scenes could have helped too as it could have shaved off a couple of minutes or even an hour from the film, which would not entirely be a bad thing. I’m all for a cinematic experience and all but of course, it should always be balanced with the audience experience.

The script was beautifully written, the words seeming like poetry in the general scheme of things –words uttered by regular folk with a depth of underlying meaning. A subtle social commentary about corruption and evil, of sacrifice and solidarity, of secrets and shame, of courage and fear. It was filled with meaning, fueled by emotion of characters who experience different types of pain and suffering.

The tone changes significantly when the Armed Forces entered the scene and started outlining their operational orders against the communists. The air in the cinema changed. People sat up much straighter and paid more attention to what was going to happen, but if they are expecting brutality and violence, they will be disappointment because MMSKAN’s approach is much more subtle. It leaves audiences with the task of filling in the blanks and drawing their conclusions.

All in all, watching MMSKAN is an investment of sorts– an investment of time, emotion and thought. It haunts audiences with questions long after the movie is over, and as such, succeeded in getting audiences to think about the message behind the story. It holds audiences captive, forcing them to come to terms with the characters and their stories and gives them ample time to process each scene before it jumps to the next exquisitely framed sequence. Its  fraught with food for thought, that challenges moviegoers to appreciate anything different from the mainstream. It’s a really really  long journey. I’m not kidding. This is one of the longest movies I’ve sat through, and I felt every second of it.